Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 25, Issue 9, pp 2873–2884 | Cite as

Young Women’s Accounts of Caregiving, Family Relationships, and Personal Growth When Mother Has Mental Illness

  • Catherine E. Petrowski
  • Catherine H. Stein
Original Paper


Family members often serve as the primary source of care and support for loved ones living with mental illness. Although existing research has examined the role of parents and well siblings in providing care to adult children with mental illness, relatively little is known about the caregiving experiences of adult children with a parent with a psychiatric disability. Guided by a life course perspective, the present qualitative study examined first-person accounts of 10 young women attending college (ages 18–22) who were raised by a mother living with mental illness (depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia). Participants completed individual semi-structured interviews in which they described their experiences of caregiving, role reversal, and felt obligation towards mother, their ties to father and siblings, and their views of the impact of maternal mental illness on their lives. Overall, young adults’ accounts of their relationship with mother could be characterized as either predominately positive or predominately negative. In general, participants’ accounts of their caregiving experiences, views of felt obligation, and supportiveness of family ties differed depending on their reports of the overall quality of the mother–daughter relationship. Adult daughters described positive impacts of maternal mental illness on their own lives, regardless of their accounts of relationship quality with their mothers.


Caregiving Family relationships Serious mental illness Young adult women 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBowling Green State UniversityBowling GreenUSA

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